Posted by: krusty505 | August 18, 2011

Baring it All

Several people have asked me what the hell is wrong with me. “Tell me again why you’re trying to run barefoot?!” “Doesn’t it hurt?” “I don’t get it.” “You’re crazy” (That last one came directly from Natalie right before she yelled at me for daring to get into bed after walking the golf course barefoot and not having first washed off my feet. Ok, I learned my lesson on that one… So I decided to just write down my process and rationale from beginning to end. Some of the following anecdotes I have referenced before, but this is the most comprehensive version to date.

Like millions of people, I read Christopher McDougll’s book Born to Run a couple of years ago, and I was fascinated with his premise that taking off his shoes had miraculously cured many of his long-standing and debilitating running injuries. I was also smitten with the Tarahumara Indians and their uber athletic prowess and lack of any fancy accoutrement like GPS devices, CamelBacks, Gels, or even “real” running shoes for that matter. These guys go out for 50 mile jaunts through the mountains of Mexico in homemade huaraches cut from the tread of old car tires and strapped on with a leather thong! In a word, badass!

At the time of my first reading, I had pretty much abandoned competitive cycling in favor of running, specifically trail running. I really enjoyed the relative simplicity of running, the lower time commitment, the added territory it opened up (no wilderness restrictions), and the ability to take the dog along. I had run in 2 trail marathons and 1 50 mile ultra-marathon and had done respectably well, but all 3 events had left me  badly hobbled afterward and more than a little burned out. There had to be a better way.

I had also just started graduate school and was taking a class on activity and aging. I had to write a literature review and figured I could kill 2 birds with one stone, satisfy my requirement for the class and satisfy my curiosity to find out more about barefoot running, so I approached my professor about using barefoot running as my topic. Not only did he approve of my topic, he thought, given the timeliness of barefoot running, that working together we could get the paper published in a peer-reviewed fitness journal. The upshot was that the article made the cover of IDEA Fitness Journal in April of 2010.

I started walking/jogging to school barefoot and generally trying to be barefoot as often as possible. I also started doing some short runs at a local park (mixed grass and pavement) barefoot. Because I believe that one’s technique should be as solid as possible before putting on any barefoot type shoe, I resisted buying Vibram 5 Fingers or other such footwear. I did, however, purchase some pretty minimalist running shoes from New Balance (Mt 100 Trail), which was a mistake because they allowed me to run with pretty bad form and thus ended up doing more harm than good.

Things were progressing pretty well, but then winter came along, and I lost enthusiasm for the whole endeavor.

Two years later, I got hit with the worst bout of tendonitis in my knee that I’ve ever had. I was limping badly for weeks while walking; running was totally out of the question. I started seeing a practitioner of ART (Active Release Technique). After just one treatment, he told me to try to run a little. I headed out to my local park and started trotting around the perimeter, but to no avail. The pain was still there. However, I had noticed that walking around the house barefoot nearly eliminated my limp, so I decided to take off my shoes. Though my knee still hurt, I was able to run 3 miles around the park with little pain. Of course, the next day I could hardly walk because my calves were so sore, but I figured I might want to revisit this whole barefoot thing.

Since then, I’ve been slowly building up my barefoot sessions. I purchased some Merrel Trail Gloves and some Vivobarefoot shoes that I can wear to work. Both reduce my limp, but nothing is as good as being totally unshod. I started doing my track repeats totally barefoot a couple of weeks ago. I do them entirely on grass, but still I’m barefoot. Yesterday, I ran a tempo run in the Trail Gloves, and aside from the mega calf soreness, I’m limp free today! This afternoon I’m going to order some huaraches from Invisible Shoes. If I could learn to run in them, I think I’d be set.

I was scheduled to have a procedure done on my lower back, but the doctor who was going to do it said that I was moving and feeling so much better that I shouldn’t have it done. He also said that much of the therapy I’m doing was replicated by Timothy Ferris in The Four Hour Body. I read most of that, too, and I can attest to some, not all of what Ferris advocates. Most definitely his Slow Carb Diet is leaning up my mid section! I’ve found several websites worth checking out for barefoot advice and shoe reviews; I’m including some links below.

If you don’t have issues, you are probably fine running in shoes, but if you have experienced unusual pain, you might think about taking off your shoes. It really is the way our feet and bodies have evolved to run most “correctly.”



  1. I still think he’s crazy but it works so no complaints from me!

  2. Hey Chris. Interested stuff here. As you know, I have been studying pedorthics since I got into bootfitting fifteen years ago. You make some good points. I bumped into Sean and Denise in Taos last weekend. I mentioned to Sean that I have been reading your blog and he told me that I should comment. So here I am! You are a talented writer and I am glad to see that you are putting it to good use. I am really impressed with your work with the students. Proof that you are tougher than I am. Please give my best to Natalie. Ciao, Jonah

    • Jonah, Thanks for the feedback. I’m not sure if my replies are getting through. I’m not seeing them on my “dashboard.” Did you get my last response to you?

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